What to do when you don't know what to do after graduating

A group of young graduates celebrating graduation day
A group of young graduates celebrating graduation day

When I finished high school, the two distinct things I remember feeling was relief that it was all over and panic about what I would do next.

You see, I always had plans to study further, but by the time I enrolled at college I had no idea what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Because I was so indecisive, I initially made a decision based on where I assumed the money would be: Information Technology. 

Right up until the end before someone suggested I try Multimedia Technology instead – I couldn’t help but think that I set myself up for failure.

If I hadn’t had the last minute help and guidance that I did, I would have, without a doubt failed.

The problem I found, and I’ve written about this previously, is that I felt the pressure to jump straight into another learning institution because a) it was expected of me and b) I was frightened by the prospect that I would become lazy if I didn’t.

In hindsight, I really believe that I should have taken a gap year – because even if I still didn’t know what I wanted out of life, it certainly would have given me a taste of what I didn’t want in life.

And I think that many young graduates in South Africa can relate to this. 

What I feel makes this harder is the fact that many young adults in South Africa feel under pressure to pick a university and go into a field immediately because the longer they wait, the less opportunities will be available in a climate where job availability seems to be so scarce.

So what do you do?

How do you choose a field when a) you’re not sure in which direction you want to go and b) when you feel the pressure to make a random selection, because doing anything is better than doing nothing?

We reached out to Karel van der Molen, attorney, Human Resource Practitioner and lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch, who provided us with some key insights and solutions that could help South African students figure out the best path for them.

A key point to note, says Karel, is that so often, “people are influenced by family to enter a particular industry, or follow the career choice of their friends because they think that they will enjoy that career as well.”

But just because someone else does something that looks great – even if it’s something that you’ve seen on TV that is created to look like fun –  does not necessarily mean that it’s suited to you.

READ MORE: Why I regret not taking a gap year

On the other hand, Karel adds that there are those situations where the reasons people struggle to make the decision but are pressed for time and often make disastrous decisions because of it, resulting in “huge expenses on wasted tuition fees.”

Here’s what you need to do (small steps is key, says Karel) :

Firstly, and this almost seems trite to say it, but one must “know oneself”. 

• It is important that we take a hard look at ourselves and consider objectively what our strengths and areas for improvement are.
• Realise what you are good at and what you can do and not do and consider how this would affect your future careers (or the possible career/s that you’re thinking about). 

Seek advice:

“One practical step that one take is to consult with career counsellor in your area. There are many private career counsellors, while all the universities have a career counselling service which members of the public can also utilise.”

Counsellors help by:

Conducting a series of assessments and evaluations of personality and aptitude tests and interest assessments,
Providing an individual feedback session, as well as a written report of the results and recommendations. 

This in turn, helps the undecided individual determine what type of career is best suited to him/her. And in doing so, Karel says that “they are then able to offer a variety of options and also to provide information on the studies and training which might be required, if any.

“My experience is that this is indeed a very good option. There is usually a cost involved, but given the potential assistance that this intervention can provide, it is well worth the expense.”

READ MORE:Could that job you’re applying for be a scam?

Reach out to people within the career field you’re interested in

Making connections don’t just start when you’re in the field – they begin long before that. 

It’s always a good idea to do a bit of research and try and get in touch with someone – be it via your community or through social media searches – because doing so allows you to ask relevant questions about the academic and non-academic requirements you need information about.

You also have the chance to create connections that could help you gain access to job shadowing opportunities. 

Visit career exhibitions:

"There are then the opportunities for obtaining information from career exhibitions where major industries showcase themselves and the job opportunities, study choices, possible bursary options and the like. 

There are always experts on hand to answer questions and provide information and advice."

Research is your friend

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of what you can find online. There’s a wealth of information at your fingertips, and one of the key websites you should look to is “ websites of organisations such as the National Youth Development Agency.” 

“Their homepage makes mention of the Careers and oOccupations Reference Directory for Young People, a 2000-page document which has details of most careers in South Africa and provides all manner of information on skills and attributes, studies, opportunities and the like.”

These are just a few key points to help get you started if you’re feeling stuck and directionless. 

What helped you to find the right career? Share your stories with us and we could feature it in a follow up article.

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes, I believed it was authentic
7% - 425 votes
Yes, I didn't want to spend that much money on the original item
20% - 1244 votes
No, I always shop at reputable stores
13% - 801 votes
No, I don't wear designer clothing
60% - 3683 votes